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  • Oct
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Stars come out to help feed the hungry

Posted By October 20, 2011 | 12:47 pm | Lead Story #3, Local


By Tanya Connor

Famed entertainers shared their talents to help a local parish feed the hungry.
“This is the spirit of St. John’s,” said Kevin Dowd, a member of St. John Parish in Worcester.
“A Night of Stars: Celebrity Gala to Benefit Food for the Poor,” St. John’s food program, was held Saturday at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts.
“I think the enjoyment everybody’s having tonight – the nature of that is, you want to share it with everybody,” Mr. Dowd said. “What we have, we want to share. Father Madden encourages that. He inspires it.” Father John Madden is pastor.
“I just can’t wait to see … the number of people who are able to be served out of that building, the number of people who volunteer,” Mr. Dowd said.
St. John’s bought a building adjacent to its parking lot to renovate for St. John’s Food for the Poor Center, which will house and expand the present soup kitchen and food pantry, Father Madden and Francis R. Carroll announced in June.
Mr. Carroll, longtime parishioner and local philanthropist, was chairman of Saturday’s gala, the kickoff fundraiser for the renovation project. “Frank,” a man accessible to prestigious and ordinary folks alike, wasn’t merely a chairman. He was the one who made the gala happen – according to just about everyone but him.
“I could not have done this without Karyn Shea and her committee of volunteers,” Mr. Carroll said of the gala co-chair. “I have a strong belief in people. That’s why it’s not me.” As the gala concluded he said, “Most of all I want to thank my wife, Mary, and of course you know my boss, Father Madden.”
Asked before the show what made her come, television and film star Anne Jeffreys replied simply, “Frank.”
“He’s very persuasive and a lovely gentleman,” doing great things for charity, she said. “It’s no fun to be hungry.”
“It’s been thrilling,” Betsy Abeles Kravitz, said of helping Mr. Carroll with the gala. Before this, she’d “worshipped” Mr. Carroll from afar, she said. By Saturday, she was feeling like an adopted daughter.
“He cuts across all ethnic groups,” she said. “The diversity of the cast represents that.”
When it was their turn to shine, several of those stars praised Mr. Carroll. Despite all their past or present fame, they came across as ordinary people genuinely grateful to the businessman who persuaded them to give up three days of their time to come cross country – to perform pro-bono.
“When we were asked to do this, it took us exactly 15 seconds to say ‘yes,’” said Theodore Bikel, Tevya in Broadway’s “Fiddler on the Roof,” who was accompanied by his wife, Tamara Brooks. And that was before they learned the extent of the project, he said. He praised Mr. Carroll as “the glory of America,” contrasting him with those who don’t care about the hungry.
Film and television performer Tricia Leigh Fisher, who sang with her husband, Byron Thames, thanked Mr. Carroll for bringing them there, and said, “We are so inspired by everything you do.”
“You’re a champ and you’ll always be a champ,” John McDermott, a founding member of The Irish Tenors, told Mr. Carroll. “Don’t ever get knocked down.”
Keynote speaker Victoria Reggie Kennedy, widow of Sen. Edward Kennedy, spoke of people getting a hot breakfast at St. John’s, not having to choose between food and medicine.
She told Mr. Carroll he is something else, to applause and cheers from the audience. They again applauded and cheered when she mentioned Father Madden.
“We are all here because we care about what you care about,” she said. “We are here for you, Father Madden, because we care and you care. Look around you. Thank all of you.”
How often, in a crowded theater in a U.S. city today, is a warm spotlight turned on a Catholic priest and layman and their parish’s ministry?
“I was in the second row at Hanover Theatre,” Father Madden marveled. “I said, ‘How did I end up here?’” His sister replied: “Frank Carroll.”
“It was just a resounding success,” Father Madden said of the evening. “The spirit in the building was terrific. The entertainers were terrific.” He marveled that so many came, without pay, from across the country, and “they didn’t know us.”
“I think we’re going to be really successful,” he said. “The Church is building.” Other Catholic parishes in the city are also undertaking building projects, he noted.
At the end of the gala Mr. Carroll announced that they’d received $145,000 in special gifts that night. He said Wednesday that he didn’t yet know the total amount the gala raised.
Closing the gala, Father Madden thanked everybody and gave Mr. Carroll a “shoe shine kit” from the shoe shine boys, who, he said, signed it at St. John’s rectory.
“That was a big surprise,” Mr. Carroll said later. The 75-year-old said he was a shoe shine boy from age 8 to 15.
Part of the gala’s entertainment – and message – was a film of shoe shine boys of old earning money to supplement the family income, and Mr. Carroll today shining prominent people’s shoes for $1 or $10 or $40. The film showed “we know what it means to be poor,” Mr. Carroll said.
The Shoe Shine Boys Committee sponsored the gala, along with St. John’s Food for the Poor and Hanover Theatre, to raise not only money, but awareness about hunger.
Actress Terry Moore, and her actor and producer son Grant Cramer, introduced St. John’s food program and the shoe shine film. They spoke of making donations themselves and told the audience about the brochure in the programs that would help them do the same.
Other entertainers also left listeners with challenges.
Mr. McDermott sang about lonesome elders “waiting for someone to say, ‘Hello in there. Hello.’” He called for saying that, rather than just walking by, when encountering “ancient eyes” on the street.
Singer Virgil S. Gibson sang, “Prayers make this world a better place.” He told listeners to pray when things are down, then to get up and go help answer their prayers.